Congressional Budget Office: US Nuclear Forces To Cost $1.2 Trillion over 30 Years

02.11.2017 - Albuquerque, New Mexico - Los Alamos Study Group

Congressional Budget Office: US Nuclear Forces To Cost $1.2 Trillion over 30 Years
(Image by Congressional Budget Office)

Modernization bill estimated at $400 billion; operations $800 billion

Guesstimated future costs discounted for inflation; current-dollar figure much higher

On the 31st of October, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its 73-page of the future costs of maintaining and modernizing US nuclear weapons, entitled “Approaches for Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2046.”[1]

The total cost estimated by CBO was $1.242 trillion (T), of which $800 billion (B) is estimated as necessary to maintain and operate planned forces. The remainder ($400 B) is CBO’s estimate of the cost to modernize these forces. According to CBO, it will cost $4.6 million (M) per hour, 24/7, to keep US nuclear forces for the next 30 years.

As the title suggests, CBO looked at alternatives (nine in all) to Obama Administration nuclear weapon plans.[2] The nine alternatives differ only slightly in their assumptions and therefore also in estimated total cost, providing savings that range from 2% to 11%, much less than the margin of error in CBO’s overall estimates.

CBO’s estimates are based on Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Energy (DoE) cost projections and, where available, CBO’s estimates of cost growth based on prior experience, rules of thumb, and some necessary guesswork to account for multi-decadal lapses in weapon system development.

In a significant departure from prior CBO estimates, the entire cost of the proposed B-21 heavy bomber is attributed to its nuclear mission (up from the previous 25%), which raises the 30-year cost of this delivery system from an estimated $127 B to $245 B, accounting for $118 B in total cost (p. 17). Without this change the total cost figure would be $1.1 T.

In an even more significant departure from past estimates, CBO now discounts future costs by an unstated inflation estimate (p. 52). Using current-year dollars under a 2% inflation scenario over the coming 30 years would increase the total cost figure from $1.2 T to the $1.5 T range.

DoE’s estimated 30-year costs account for $352 B, or 28% of total nuclear costs, of which $261 B are for DoE’s nuclear “weapons laboratories and supporting activities.” None of the nine scenarios involve any cuts in expenditures at DoE’s complex of nuclear laboratories and production plants or for nuclear command and control.

Study Group director Mello: “This tremendous financial commitment, amounting to $3,715 for every US man, woman, and child alive today, comes at a time of exploding fiscal requirements for Social Security, Medicare, and debt service, all mandatory expenses. Climate protection, the reconstruction of infrastructure, and the education of our children, are all being underserved at present. This is a doomsday budgetary commitment. It is unnecessary and it is counterproductive for US security.

“If wisely invested in leveraging deployment of sustainable energy and transportation instead of nuclear weapons, this huge sum would go a long way to building resilience and energy independence, and would provide hundreds of thousands of new, fulfilling careers. Continuing to forgo this golden opportunity is a national security blunder of the first magnitude, which will quickly become impossible to correct, creating existential dangers for US survival.

“’Nuclear deterrence,’ so-called, could be achieved by a submarine-based nuclear monad on a smaller scale, which would also allow Columbia-class program delays. This would allow ample time for negotiating Russian arsenals down. Russia is the only nuclear peer competitor of the US. The US, with its 10-fold higher military expenditures, its more accurate strategic nuclear forces, and its phalanx of bases surrounding Russia, must lead the way in nuclear disarmament. At any arsenal level, nuclear weapons are irrelevant for defense. They are offensive weapons of mass destruction only.

“Such a plan would slash planned nuclear expenditures, which would increase US security almost no matter how the resulting savings were spent, or saved.

“Nuclear weapons, including nuclear deterrence, have now been banned, and rightly so. Not just deterrence but “extended deterrence,” which involves the fanciful belief that a US president would sacrifice US cities to retaliate against an attack on any of 29 US allies (currently), must be gradually set aside in favor new security structures.

“Most planned nuclear expenditures can be traced to the vain attempt to achieve escalatory dominance in nuclear wars – wars which, as Ronald Reagan said, “cannot be won and must never be fought.”

“We are confident that this planned modernization of nuclear weapons will not, in its entirely, occur. CBO, to be credible within the Washington, DC echo-chamber, must assume the opposite – that these programs are practical and realizable. Experience tells us otherwise. To take one example, the first Interoperable Warhead (IW-1), is now fading away like the Cheshire Cat.

“In another and closely-related example, DoE is now uncertain when, where, and how to produce new plutonium warhead cores (“pits”), which are needed in quantity only for IW-1, and then only to produce enough warheads to provide an “upload hedge” which would violate the limits set by New START.

“Thus the Obama modernization plan, which this study costs out, was always a bet on a new arms race and a new Cold War. Thanks to actions taken by that administration and others, which are being continued if not expanded today, we have that new Cold War. The nuclear weapons laboratories and military contractors feeding well at the expanding trough, as the risk of nuclear war rises.

“CBO’s estimates can be questioned in significant cases such as replacing the current ICBM force. Estimates provided by the Air Force for capital cost, which are the basis for CBO’s estimate, are roughly half the mid-range figure from DoD’s Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation (CAPE) group.”


[1] Prior CBO estimates include: Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2014 to 2023 (December 2013), Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2015 to 2024 (January 2015), and Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2026 (February 2017).

[2] These plans may change. The Trump Administration is currently engaged in writing a new nuclear posture review (NPR), which sources say will be delivered to President Trump on December 15 and released to the public in January. Multiple sources tell us that a number of more aggressive nuclear policy initiatives have been discussed by the Administration, including fielding additional tactical nuclear weapons, providing additional low-yield warhead options, providing neutron bombs, and conducting nuclear tests that would violate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Development of intermediate-range ground-launched missiles are proposed in both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal year (FY) 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA): “Meanwhile, the House NDAA would create a new “program of record” for a missile system capable of hitting targets in the range prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, which the U.S. says Russia has violated. The House bill would condition further U.S. adherence to the treaty on Russia’s own compliance. The Senate’s NDAA, on the other hand, authorizes $65 million for a research and development program for a dual-capable, road-mobile, ground-launched missile system within the range prohibited by the treaty.” “Final Negotiations on 2018 NDAA Loom as Senate Names Conferees,” October 18, 2017, ExchangeMonitor Publications.

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